BY CARLY OEDING | MARCH 17, 2016
On Monday, March 7th, the Student Government Association (SGA) held a meeting in Anderson Auditorium to discuss the recent debate over Edgewood College’s judicial system in light of a February 26th sexual assault ruling in favor of an alleged perpetrator.
Over 50 students and staff were in attendance, including Vice President of Student Affairs Tony Chambers, and the student leaders of the recently held protest of the board’s ruling: Marisha Ash, Jorge Zuniga, Janae Buege-McClain, and Saiya Yanagihasi.
The meeting split attendees into four groups and each group focused on topics such as the training board members receive, possible handbook improvements, and the inclusion of student perspectives. The biggest concerns voiced were a lack of sexual assault training for board members, a lack of unbiased third party opinions, inconsistent decisions from the board, and a lack of communication between Edgewood College authorities and students when a sexual assault is reported. One student said, “I found out via Facebook two days before I received an email from Dr. Flanagan.”
Another student voiced concern that in her opinion Edgewood College students seem to be more informed about UW-Madison based assaults than those at Edgewood. She commented that “the first time I ever heard about this sexual assault was when [President] Scott Flanagan sent his
email a week or two weeks ago. We get emails from UW-Madison about their assaults all the time, but we don’t get any from our own campus”.
Informing the student body about a possible assault starts with a non-confidential report and statement about an incident, which is sent to Security. This initial statement is made available to the public, and includes information about how to report an assault, who to report it to, and some of the available resources on sexual assault for students. Students at the SGA meeting did not feel that this was enough education on the topic. One commented, “we need more information on how, when, where to report, and the possible consequences”. However, instead of waiting for the report to be made, some students felt that they should be informed in a timelier manner to ensure their awareness and safety.
Another issue pressed by students was the accessibility and awareness of available campus resources on the weekend and of off campus resources, such as the Rape Crisis Center. Many students were unaware of the confidential and non-confidential resources available. One said, “there should be more education on confidential resources available”.
There is an on-call personal counselor on weekends, which many students did not know about. However, access to the service typically requires going through an “RA [resident assistant]… [who] would have to report it even if you were looking for a confidential resource.” One student commented that this setup, “defeats the purpose” of seeking out a confidential resource.
Ultimately, some students present said they should not have to prove the judicial process wrong, and that that the current system is focused on maintaining a positive school reputation rather than on fairness.
Many students at the meeting emphasized the need for more in depth sexual assault training for all board members. Currently, board members can receive different levels of training, and there was a call for an equal amount. Board members only receive sexual assault training once. The idea of an annual “refresher” training was proposed at the meeting. Students believed that more training and increased frequency would lead to more consistent decisions made by the board.
A collaboration between Madison area colleges was also brought up as a way to reduce bias. If Edgewood College, Madison College, and UW-Madison board members collaborated, there would theoretically be less bias in favor of an individual college’s reputation and more emphasis on a fair trial. A popular idea among those present was to bring in a third party expert, such as a Rape Crisis Center staff member, in the case of a sexual assault to increase expert authority on specific cases.
SGA leaders announced that a summary of the meeting would be emailed to students. It has been predicted that a restructured justice system could be implemented for the 2017-2018 school year, though they hope to see changes sooner, according to Yanagihasi.